I was diving on South Coast. It was the final dive of the trip, the second on the Sunday, after a 2 hour 18 minutes surface interval from the first dive. It was the third days' diving of the trip.
On the second dive, we dropped down to 31m, and slowly came up the reef to 20m. This was a slight reverse profile – we went to 23m on the first dive of the day.
I picked up a couple of minutes' deco stops; and my buddy picked up 3 minutes. We did the deco stops; and then we then did a 3 minute safety stop. We slowly ascended from 5m to the surface - I took around 3 minutes to ascend. It was quite a short dive - around 40 minutes'. We did the stops with pretty good buoyancy - my computer shows 20cm variation in depth during them.
After the dive, I walked my twinset up the hill to get it the shower to rinse it off. This done, I then walked down the hill and started de-kitting. About 70 minutes after the dive. I became dizzy. The world was spinning around me.
Club-mates helped to move to the shade, where I was given a drink. I immediately vomited.
We didn’t have club oxygen with us. A club-mate found the dive centre’s O2, and I was put on it. People were unsure if it was a bend or some other cause – scallops were mentioned as a possible culprit. The oxygen made me vomit. I carried on vomiting until just before the first chamber treatment.
A visiting paramedic at the dive site got involved in my treatment. My club-mates had called 111, but the paramedic felt a bend was unlikely and stood the call down. A club-mate says the paramedic did a neuro test on me, which I don’t remember.
After 20 minutes on O2, I was no better but also no worse. There was some discussion as to the best approach to get me to hospital. The solution decided on was for my buddy to drive my car, with me as a passenger, and another club member coming along in convoy.
I was given O2 to breathe in the car. However, it was switched off and I was unable to turn it on. The drive to the hospital took around 2 hours. I was taken to Plymouth A&E. I had an hour or so wait without O2 in the waiting room. When I was seen, the A&E doctors were concerned - my symptoms were very similar to those of a major stroke.
I was put on O2. Eventually, A&E decided to transfer me to the DDRC. This is around the corner from the hospital, but the ambulance got lost and it took 20 minutes to transfer there. I was on O2 for the transfer.
The diving doctors immediately diagnosed it as a major inner ear bend. They gave me anti-nausea drugs. They seemed alarmed about some of my symptoms. I had spent a long time not on 02, and so could have some major bubbles. (I believe the bubbles for ear bends are in the cerebellum, not the ear fluids). My leg twitched a lot, which is apparently indicative of a major CNS hit. So they decided on an aggressive treatment schedule.
Around 30 minutes after arriving at the DDRC, at 9.30 pm, I was in the pot. My first dive was COMEX 30. This is a 30m treatment, lasting 7 hours. You initially breathe 50/50 heliox, and move onto oxygen for the last 5 hours or so. The idea is that the deep section crushes any residual bubbles, and then the O2 flushes out the crushed bubbles.
The treatment did me good. However, I was still dizzy and still couldn't walk well. So a few hours' later, I did a 5 hour dive, 18m dive (I think Table 6) which was pretty much all on O2. There were encouraging signs on both dives - I was drinking fluids, jumped at the chance to eat some pizza, and had control of my bladder and bowels. After this dive, I could just about walk, and the dizziness was a lot better.
After this, I moved onto short 14m dives on O2, lasting about 2 hours each. I'd have a 3 hour 4 lunch break between the dives. The longer dives were in the large chamber; the shorter ones were in a mono-chamber with just me.
My first treatment was Sunday; the second long one was on Monday. The shorter dives happened on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, with just one on Friday. By the time of the final one, my balance was back to normal and I didn't show any other symptoms. So I was released, and came home. (There is one balance test I failed, but I strongly suspect I've never been able to pass it.)
The doctors think it's very likely I have a PFO. I'll try to get a test to confirm. If I do have one, my future diving is likely to be depth limited.